Medium and the message: The crafting of Team Anna’s image

Team Anna may come across as an under-resourced grassroots-level movement, but it's proved itself to be extraordinarily savvy in presenting a packaged image of the movement.

Vembu August 19, 2011 14:54:48 IST
Medium and the message: The crafting of Team Anna’s image

One of the most striking things about Team Anna’s campaign against corruption thus far is that for a grassroots-level movement that has little or no experience in political mobilisation, it has had an enormous impact.

Despite media commentaries painting it as a phenomenon driven principally by an urban middle-class that’s jaded with parliamentary politics, Team Anna has been able to generate enormous political goodwill even in small towns and villages.

Some of this is, of course, because the one-point issue that it has taken up — corruption – figures pretty much at the top of most people’s consciousness as demanding urgent attention. The fact that Anna Hazare is a consummate outsider to politics also reinforces people’s faith in his earnestness in taking up the cause and renders them less cynical than they might have been if a career politician were mouthing platitudes.

But even these explanations don’t go far enough to account for how an under-resourced bottom-up movement whose primary asset is the strength of its moral appeal has been able to achieve such signal success – in terms of mass mobilisation – in so short a time. That it has thus far outwitted and outmanoeuvred a political entity like the Congress, which has limitless financial and political heft, and which has years of experience in running slick political campaigns (and disinformation campaigns) is doubly striking.

Medium and the message The crafting of Team Annas image

Team Anna's media and image management strategy was driven by at least two former TV journalists who gave them invaluable inputs in the minutiae of playing the news cycle. AFPAFP

As Firstpost noted earlier, Team Anna’s public relations outreach has been immaculate and has been weaving circles around the Congress. It has also proved astute at staying ahead of the news cycle and has forced the government and the Congress on the defensive. Even on the day that Anna Hazare was detained, his team made available to the media a pre-recorded video message from Anna himself, urging his followers to keep up their “second freedom struggle”.

Additionally, Team Anna’s band of youthful followers have proved themselves savvy in harvesting the social media space, including Twitter and Facebook, leaving mainstream political parties, which merely have a token presence in the virtual world, way behind. It was via these social media platforms that much of the information about assembly points for protest demonstrations went out.

On top of all this, of course, the Congress’ infinite capacity to score self-goals, and for its spokespersons to get carried away with their own vituperative purple prose, contributed to enhancing the image of sobriety and civility that Team Anna projected for the most part.

Some explanations for how Team Anna got it so right are now available. It turns out that the media and image management strategy was driven by at least two former TV journalists who gave them invaluable inputs in the minutiae of playing the news cycle.

Some of these inputs, as reported by India Today, reveal just how well-informed and suave Team Anna has been in sending out a carefully calibrated image of the movement. For instance, leaders of the movement were told:

“Never start a press conference at 7:30 pm. That's when TV news channels run sports shows. They will not cut out of cricket to show your press conference. Avoid live briefings at 2:30 pm, that's when Hindi news channels run Saas-Bahu shows, which get very good ratings. Channels will not break out of their Saas-Bahu shows.”

"Never kick off a major protest on a Sunday or a holiday, that's when TV channels have a lot of pre-recorded shows and space for live news is limited. Plus, all the big anchors and editors take the day off. Stories get played up more when the top editors are present in the newsroom."

Evidently, Anna's team members hold media strategy meetings each morning, and come up with ways to feed the media a narrative – or even just a soundbyte – that will go down well with the 24x7 hypermedia. And Team Anna members who are going in for media interviews or TV debates are given talking points and briefed to stick to them.

The consistency of the message from Team Anna, on the strength of such talking points, contrasts sharply with the varying and conflicting messages from the hydra-headed Congress, whose spokespersons evidently take their cues depending on which side of the bed they got out of.

Such careful cultivation of Team Anna’s image may account for its relative success thus far in getting out its message – as much as the inherent power of its message itself. It’s hard to say whether and how well these image management strategies will play out away from the big cities, but for now at least, Team Anna has proved itself particularly adept at presenting a well-packaged narrative and a carefully crafted image of itself to keep media entities stringing along.

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